Buck Harvey: Spurs skirt snakes on the plain
Web Posted: 04/14/2008 10:13 PM CDT
Express-News Staff Writer
Robert McDermott never thought they were evil Okies. Neither did Peter Holt, even when he eliminated them from the equation.
But there were signs then the Spurs were sleeping with the enemy, and what has been revealed lately outlines what was possible years ago when Clay Bennett and his company owned more of the Spurs than anyone else.
Oh, how Seattle gets that.
The Spurs always were vulnerable to relocation until funding for the AT&T Center was found, and McDermott saw danger in 1993. Then, he put together a 22-piece ownership group to buy the team from Red McCombs.
McCombs has insisted he never would have sold to a group who intended to move the Spurs. But, as Seattle knows, intentions change.
The previous Sonics owner, Howard Schultz of Starbucks fame, assured Seattle that Bennett's ownership group was the best option for keeping the team. Bennett was as assuring.
Bennett, in those days in San Antonio, didn't say much. He was just part of McDermott's 22.
Out front was a New York suit named Jack Diller. He had a lot of sports management experience but no ties to Texas. It was his job to find a path to a new arena.
Bennett stayed in the background, albeit with his company, Gaylord Properties, as the largest shareholder. This is the only time in Spurs history when a group or person without ties to South Texas was in that position.
Oklahoma City wasn't ready for the NBA in the mid-'90s, but Gaylord had other interests. The company oversaw a shiny arena in Nashville without a tenant.
But that never became a public issue, even as Gaylord continued to buy shares of the Spurs as they became available. Diller, meanwhile, wasn't getting anywhere on the arena front.
Had this continued, how long would it have been before Bennett offered the remaining investors a lucrative exit strategy?
Enter Holt. He initially bought only 13 percent of the franchise, then purchased more when the Maloof brothers, who later purchased the Sacramento Kings, put in a bid.
Holt's next move solidified everything, and anyone who considers him cheap should consider this: Holt bought out Gaylord.
Holt was patient after that, letting others get in front of the arena push. The Tim Duncan lottery gave him a chip he never saw coming, but Hill Country Holt always made it clear he wasn't going anywhere. That went a long way toward building a community consensus.
Gaylord also was patient, and it got a hockey franchise for its Nashville arena. Diller became team president.
Looking back, was San Antonio in a chess game it didn't know was being played?
Seattle has been in something closer to a vise. Bennett and his Oklahoma buddies bought the Sonics, then met the usual arena resistance that's in every city.
Bennett, unlike Holt, reacted with threats and urgency. As one Seattle newspaper put it, Bennett's concept of good faith bargaining was "making absurdly grandiose, non-negotiable demands."
Almost exactly a year ago, during this "good faith" period, a co-owner in Oklahoma City wrote to Bennett to ask: "Is there any way to move here for next season, or are we doomed to have another lame duck season in Seattle?"
Bennett's reply: "I am a man possessed! Will do everything we can. Thanks for hanging with me boys. The game is getting started!"
That exchange only surfaced recently. In the meantime, another co-owner slipped and told an Oklahoma City publication, "We didn't buy the team to keep it in Seattle." Bennett responded with a lie fitting of these snakes on the plain.
Bennett told David Stern his group has "never discussed moving the team to Oklahoma City."
Bennett is a man possessed, all right, but Stern doesn't mind. He said Monday he's sticking by Bennett.
Given that, it's a certainty a team that flourished for 41 years will leave one of North America's largest pro markets.
And back in one of the smaller ones? Everyone should be thankful Bennett didn't stay around.
Online at: http://www.mysanantonio.com/sports/b...n.369826d.html